Author Brad Parks on Journalism, Literary Agents, and Publishing Award-Winning Thrillers

Hello. We’re the Book Doctors. Hello. I’m not. No. We’re talking to Brad Parks, who just told us that he does have all his
own teeth. I think that’s important as a writer. I mean, not that you can’t be missing teeth. It’s not necessary for the writing process. I’ve never tried to type with my teeth, but it’s
good to know I could good if I wanted. Totally. So yeah, we were talking
about journalism and you were a journalist first. I always tell people when they’re
young and out of school that’s a great way to learn how to be a writer because
you’ve got to pump out the words in a small space.>>Arielle: And on a deadline.>>David: Will you talk about how that helped you?>>Brad: How did it not help me? For starters,
I was a sports writer starting out, and in modern day sports everybody knows
the score already, like they’ve seen the stats, and so like you’re going to the
ballpark every day and it’s like find a story, tell a story. Find a story, tell a
story and that’s just like that’s a great muscle and then there is like the
discipline of . . . you don’t say, ‘I don’t feel like making a deadline today. I’m not inspired.’>>David: The muse hasn’t struck me.>>Brad: So we were just talking off-camera–not that they would know–about my young days as a reporter with The
Star-Ledger and I just gotten hired at the paper and our Yankees beat writer
left so suddenly they threw me onto the Yankee beat in a temporary
situation so big pressure so the sports editor sat me down and explained
that sometimes they would hold an entire edition of the newspaper waiting on the
Yankees score. And you have to hit the button as soon as the game ends, and
he said for every minute the trucks and the presses are waiting it costs $15,000.
“And what do you make a year, young man?’ I’m like that’s, you know, that’s
deadline, my friends.>>David: We always say, ‘What are the stakes in the story?’ The stakes are high.>>Brad: The stakes are very high. And you can’t you
can’t sit there going, ‘Is that really the word? I’m just, I’m not sure that has the
right shading.’ No you’re just jamming it out.>>Arielle: Before you sold your first novel and you were writing it, did you set your own deadlines for yourself?>>Brad: No.
So before I sold my first novel I did everything wrong so I am like the poster
child for writing discipline because you know I would make excuses for myself
like this I had this full-time job that involved writing and so I would do
the worst thing you can possibly do which is I would write like really
dedicated for a month or two and then something would happen and, like you know,
news would break at work or something would happen in the family, and like two
months later I’d be coming back to this going, ‘Wait, what? Aunt Ellie? Who the hell is Aunt Ellie? What was I doing with her?’ And then a beautiful thing
happened so I sold a novel okay and I signed a contract now I’m I’m a
journalist so deadlines are meaningful to me yeah I signed this contract in
July that said the second book in the contract was due in January and it was
like whoa!>>Arielle: And you hadn’t written it?>>Brad: I had not written a word. I mean, it was one of those things. It’s
like, we were offered a two-book contract and my agent was like, ‘Oh and you have a
second book, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh yeah. “Of course I do. I want to polish it a little bit.’ So I I did a thing where I’m a nerd and
I did a little spreadsheet and I figured out, okay, 90,000 words and I have this many
days. I have to write a thousand words a day. Okay. And I figured out, like, a
thousand words a day that was like a newspaper article plus a little padding,
you know, and I can do that. And what a difference it makes when it’s a
thousand words every day and you’re into the story, and I always say
it maximizes your bottle washing time. I call it my bottle washing time because
we had small kids at the time so I was washing a lot of bottles, and you know,
while you’re sitting there doing this monotonous thing, your brain is always
churning on the story and you’re just staying in touch with it. So even now,
I’m a thousand words a day writer like that is that is my thing. That’s my jam.
That’s my discipline.>>David:There’s some one, one of those old writers, Somerset Maugham or
somebody, who would write 500 words in the morning when he woke up, right, and no
matter where he was in the sentence at the 500th word, he’d put the pen down and say, ‘Time for a martini! That’s a good day’s work done.’ Yes, but listen, you crank out 500
or a thousand words every single day you’re gonna have a book very
quickly.>>Brad: I mean, yeah if you do a thousand words a day,
you’re gonna have a draft three months later. And, of course,
that Somerset Maugham reminds me of my favorite Somerset Maugham quote which is, ‘There are three things that make a great novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.’>>Arielle:We have that quote in our book, actually. It’s a wonderful quote. So we, like, we want to always know, like, the publishing breakthrough side of your story because we are here to help people get published successfully. We’ve already heard something you didn’t do right.>>David: And something you did do right.>>Arielle:so in terms of the “I got my novel
published,” what was something that got you to that point that you think you
did well?>>Brad: How much camera film do you have there? I’m gonna break
the cloud if I’m talking about everything I did wrong. Okay, I did everything wrong,
absolutely everything, because I did it like a newspaper reporter. I figured
out, okay, I need to get an agent, and what I did was I said, “who do I know”.
Who do I know is not the way to go about it. I have become an evangelist for
the query process and for actually doing it correctly because “who do I know” is
not necessarily gonna lead you to the right agent. It led me
to a woman who was very wonderful and very smart, I can say nothing bad
about her except she wasn’t truly a mystery thriller agent, you know.
So when she would walk into those publishing houses and be pitching those
editors, they were like, “who is this lady,” ’cause she didn’t have anybody else
in the genre. That kind of led me to a spot where I wasn’t being taken as
seriously as if I had–>>Arielle: Did you sell a novel with her?>>Brad: I sold a novel with her. Did I sell it well, Arielle? so that’s…that’s… of course, the thing you start to realize.
Before you publish you think, “If I could just be published, that’s
the mountaintop. There it is.” And then you realize it’s the base camp,
and there’s this whole other thing you have to climb. I mean, it took a number
of years for me to undo the mistakes I made early on in my career.>>David: We always
tell people to research when you try to find an agent because if you’re a
mystery writer you don’t wanna get a romance
agent.>>Brad: That is very, very true. The wrong agent is worse than no agent.>>David: It kind of is in a
way.>>Brad: That’s very true.>>Arielle: Also it can be very hard to sell a second book if the first book doesn’t do as well as everybody had hoped.>>Brad: I always say like you only get one chance to make a first
impression in this business, and your debut novel is like this capital that
you get to spend once. And everybody is gonna be looking at the new kid in town
they’re gonna be looking at Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing.” And suddenly Reese Witherspoon likes it. And by the way,
Reese, you would love my books. Let’s talk. You have that that that one time you get to be that debut novelist that everybody’s
gonna be checking out. Man, hit that one time right and everything
else is smooth.>>Arielle: you’re saying you didn’t; yet, you have had prolific–
>>Brad:here I am.>>David: You’re the only writer who won the three awards that nobody ever has…>>Brad: That is true.>>David: What are they?>>Brad: They are the Seamus, Nero, and Lefty awards, which is a little bit like saying, you
know, nobody’s ever skied down a ski slope in Florida while making french
fries. It’s an odd mix of awards because the Seamus
Award is for hard-boiled PI, and the Lefty Award is for humor, and the
Nero Award is, like, books written in the tradition of Nero Wolfe.>>David: That’s a cool thing. It’s kind of a weird Triple Crown.>>Arielle: I think nobody does it exactly right.>>David: Stephen King.>>Brad: No. Stephen King struggled at first. David Baldacci did it
right. He sold his first book for a million dollars and the movie rights for
two million dollars. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.>>Arielle: Sometimes luck and doing it right come together. I mean, most people who are novelists aren’t
even making a living at it. They are doing other full-time jobs.>>Brad: Right. Makes a living . . . (knocks) as I knock on this faux wood . . .>>Arielle: I’m going to take exception to you saying you didn’t do it right because you’ve done many
things right. So at a certain point you said this is not the right agent for
me and then what happened?>>Brad: So, oh boy, are you sure you have enough film footage?
You know, so really, I had at that point launched a series, and it’s very hard to
move a series as we all know, so we kind of formulated that, all right, you’re gonna
have to do a stand alone.>>Arielle: With the new agent?>>Brad: With the new agent. So I
have to do a stand alone with the new agent. I’m gonna . . . I’m gonna cut to the
chase on this. Yeah, I wrote one, threw it away. I wrote another, threw it away.
I wrote another, threw it away. I wrote another–>>Arielle: Wait, I have to interrupt you. When you say, “throw it away,” had you sent each of these to the agent?>>Brad: Yes.>>Arielle: And the agent said. . .>>Brad: This is good BUT. . . (laughter) So then we got to the fourth
one, the one I really thought was. . . was it, he fired me. He said, “Look, I
can’t do this anymore. You know, he got to a point where he felt like. . . I’d made a bad storytelling choice, admittedly, and I think the weight of the
previous three novels, he just felt like he couldn’t.
It was a wonderful and devastating thing to have happen, but it really made me go
back and I actually did the query process right for the first time.
And I actually said, “Okay, really, truly who do I want? What am I
looking for? I talked with a number of agents. I spent five months looking for
an agent, which by that point, as a guy with my track record,
could I call up somebody and said, “Will you represent me?” They would have said yes. Done. But I really wanted to make sure I did it right,
and I found a woman named Alice Martell, who really worked the book with me in a
rigorous way. And it’s sometimes . . . it’s like that one person who can force you
to dig deeper and make and say, “nope that wasn’t good enough.” you
know? And like “Right here you need to step on the gas pedal for about a
paragraph or two. I do? What? You want more? Okay, there’s more there,
I’m sure. Somewhere.>>David: The funny thing is when the person is right you always go
back and afterwards you go back and say, how did I not see that?>>Brad: It’s so funny publishing moves so fast sometimes
and editors don’t really have time to edit. And in a few, like, so . . . this is where
being an ex newspaper guy is a bit of a curse. If you write clean copy, they kind
of go, “okay, well, that’s good enough,” you know. And here was somebody finally in my
life saying this is not good enough so we went back and forth for about another
five months doing, I think, three more rounds of edits, and she finally said,
“Okay, we’re ready. Okay it’s time.” Within a week, she had two
major houses bidding against each other, and that novel, called Say Nothing,
has since sold in 15 countries. It was a best-seller in Germany. (speaks German) you know and it’s . . . yeah it’s . . . it’s been a
wonderful story but . . . and you know it. . . it only took, what, seven years to get to
that point.>>Arielle: One last question. When you had the agent in between saying this isn’t good,
how did you deal with that form of negative feedback around your work? Did
you go into a hole? Did you say, “I’m going to come and kill you during the night?”>>Brad: All of
those things. Actually the first book I was okay. The second book . . . I
always say that the first time I ever saw my father cry was when his dad died.
The first time my kids saw me cry was when that book died. The third one, I felt I
dealt with in a much more mature way. I snapped at my kids for no reason, stormed
out of the house, went to the local grocery store, bought a box of cookies,
and ate them in the car with tears streaming down my face. Like,
that’s how you’re supposed to deal with your feeling.>>David: That’s a wonderful image.>>Brad: Man, we don’t talk about this enough as writers, but like it’s . . . it’s grit. You’ve got to have the grit. (lights flicker) And
that, it’s a sign.>>Brad: It’s a sign from God.>>David:Whoa!>>Brad:God said. (laughter and talking at once)>>Brad: I’m fortunate in that I have no other
marketable skills so it’s not like I had anything to fall back on. But
man, you’re gonna get knocked down so much, yeah, and you got to get up off the
mat and then try a different way to take that thing.>>Arielle: Many people would have given
up after the first one. And this perseverance is the thing that we tell people all the
time is the separation.>>Brad: it is>>Arielle: And that story . . . it’s a beautiful story. Thank you.>>Brad: It’s painful.>>David: There’s pathos and triumph at the end. (laughter)>>Arielle: It’s amazing. Congratulations.>>Brad:it’s great to be on with the Book
Doctors. Was I the book nurse in this scenario?>>David:you’re like head of pediatrics. Head of a whole big thing. the mystery Department.>>Brad: thanks for having me on.>>A&D: see you at the bookstore. everybody knows I’m sorry I already
screwed up the quote. okay cut that part (music)

4 Replies to “Author Brad Parks on Journalism, Literary Agents, and Publishing Award-Winning Thrillers

  1. Wow! Incredible interview. Brad is a scrapper. Very inspiring. You guys pulled some great information out of him.

  2. Just a marvelously informative AND entertaining video. You guys and Brad fit so well together. Please talk to him again in the future for us. Happy Easter/Passover guys, if you observe!

  3. Brad is soooo funny! And I couldn't agree more with the point you guys brought up about taking the time to research. Quality over quantity (or time) always!!!

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